blooming this week: species peonies

paeonia-obovataI HAVE A NUMBER OF SPECIES PEONIES, meaning NOT the big-flowered hussies of garden popularity but their wild, and more discreet, cousins. One such species has shown off so far this spring, with more kinds to come. Want to see?

Just to be clear: I love herbaceous peonies, or P. lactiflora, the blowsy, fragrant lovelies of most late-spring gardens. But I don’t grow them in my mixed borders; I relegate them to a cutting area, where I have enough for many, many vases-full (but not even one-twentieth of the number Martha has!). I might have 25 plants, all of them from our old friends the Klehms in Illinois, and they’ll bloom in another couple of weeks. But what I am loving at the moment in the garden (not the vase) are peonies the way nature made them.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii, more easily referred to as Molly the Witch, is a beautiful pale yellow, and enjoys a spot in a shady, woodland garden. My very big, old plant of nearly a decade ago, purchased at an auction at a botanical garden party where everyone had apparently had one too many cocktails and didn’t notice it (meaning: I got it really cheap), literally disappeared a few years back. Up and left, mystery never solved. But I had seedlings left behind, and friends have since brought more first-year plants that I have plugged in around the place among hostas and ferns and such, so they are coming on finally into adulthood. Molly the Witch gets to about 2 feet tall, and is lovely from its first hint of emerging foliage, tinged as it is with a little (or a lot) of red. Celebrating diversity, one species peony at a time.

Update: Another species peony bloomed in late May and early June, in case you’d like to meet it, too.



  1. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    I love flowers with interesting stories about them, like your ‘Molly the Witch’. If only I had more shade, I lament, when I read about so many wonderful shade-loving plants.

    My hussies should be blooming in another week or so, I think, and some of them will be cut to be brought inside to enjoy close up.

  2. Cindy says:

    I love peonies and it’s nice to see some different varieties. I can’t wait until mine start to open up.

  3. margaret says:

    Welcome to Cindy…nice to “meet” you. Glad that you visited and hope to see you again soon…maybe when your peonies get going you can tell us about it.

  4. margaret says:

    Muum: Welcome to A Way to Garden. Yes, I was confused when the peonies weren’t all the same when they grew big enough to bloom, but I checked back with Seneca Hills’ catalog (where I knew some came from) and was relieved that I wasn’t seeing things!

  5. Andrew Ritchie says:

    I love that you go for the true gems, the originals, the uncommon and the underdogs. Angelica gigas, petasite plants and now these species peonies that I had never heard of.

    A Way to Garden may just have to be reprinted as THE Way to Garden.

  6. Jessica says:

    I actually laughed out loud at the phrase “big-flowered hussies.” It’s so true … Certain plants just seem like they’re trying too hard. Isn’t it amazing how they have such distinct personalities?

    (By the way, I’m hugely flattered that you visited by blog. Thanks so much for stopping by!)

  7. margaret says:

    @All of you: I pay that Andrew Ritchie big bucks to say nice things. ;-)
    @Jessica: So nice to see you. I wish you good weather for your event tomorrow…and happy gardening.

  8. Pingback:Leslie Land » Woodland Peonies, a walk on the wild side

  9. Tom says:

    I am seeking advice on whether/when to fertilize peonies. I am in Atlanta, and we are still feeling the effects in the garden from a devastating freeze last Easter. My Molly the Witch — purchased on a visit to Heronswood about two weeks before they closed — is doing well, tho it hasn’t flowered. Love your blog. May Ann Raver be blessed with bountiful blooms for writing about you. Cheers.

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Tom. I have not fed them, or just the usual compost topdressing I give everyone every year, plus maybe a broadcasting of all-natural organic fertilizer (very low NPK numbers).
    Strange that it doesn’t bloom…has it made a good clump yet or ????
    I think it’s hardy to Zone 8, so heat is not the issue I suppose. Hmmm…The best source of info I was able to find on all peonies including species was that website paenoia.com.

  11. margaret says:

    Hi, Steve. The post is still here (and hopefully so are out peonies – somewhere…). Glad to hear from you. Sorry for your loss, but also comforted to hear it’s not just me. Am ordering a Sarah myself I think…

  12. Steve Zick says:

    Sorry for the late comment, but I am still catching up on all your posts. I too had Molly the Witch disappear on me! The darned thing took at least 5 years to bloom, but by 2007 had at least a dozen gorgeous soft yellow blooms. Then, this year–a complete Houdini act–>poof<–gone without a trace. Any theories? Chipmunks? I have to say, I will opt for one of the old bomb types like Sarah Bernhardt as a replacement–love the idea of planting peonies for my gardening heirs. So bye bye Molly, hellooo Sarah! Keep up the great blog..!

  13. Sue says:

    Found a website that said if you peal back some petals and dip the buds in warm water the peonies will open in an hour. I tried this and it did not work. Anyone have any suggestions. I cut all my yesterday to get them ready for my daughter’s bridal shower tomorrow and now I don’t know what I am going to do.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Sue. I have to say I really do not know how to speed up the process, sorry. Fascinated to hear if you learn….keep us posted. See you soon again, I hope.

  14. emilie says:

    I’m still here, Margaret, my personal ordeal now being nearly four months in the past — the first chapter, that is. My ears pricked up when I read Tom’s entry. Has Anne Raver again been writing about you lately???

    As for the issue of sun vs. shade with shade and shade here winning increasingly, oak trees have a way of expanding as well as getting taller and the same holds for oak seedlings on the edge of your property that your neighbor has effectively nurtured in virtue of an endemic neglect. As a result, I am learning to live with more shade rather than less and actually coming to prefer it. Thanks so much for telling me what I ought to have known about my old-fashioned peonies. I won’t bother asking you why my lilac didn’t bloom this year. Too much shade, no doubt, and anything else is certainly there for the looking up on your magnificent website.

  15. Stacy M says:

    I must have one!! They are really great, and this post comes just when I was thinking about what to do in my back garden in some shade. I have a ‘regular’ peony that I transplanted from a friend 3 years ago and it finally bloomed last year. I got one flower that promptly fell over.

    Thanks so much for sharing Margaret, this is surely the best gardening blog out there

  16. Catherine Dougherty says:

    Your peonies are gorgeous! I save my personality flaws, such as lust, for flowers and I must admit a twinge of jealousy… tinged with admiration of course.Of course I want one of those you have featured…but in Oklahoma weather? And I too have had old flower friends just disappear, as though aliens had abducted them.
    (I still have clippings from the first layout I’d ever seen featuring Martha; I was in love with scope of her gardens! And her kitchen… )

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